Reviews

Review: RoboHelp X5

Macromedia RoboHelp X5
starting at $379
Macromedia Inc.
San Francisco, California
(415) 252-2000
www.macromedia.com

This is the first version of RoboHelp to come out with new branding, since eHelp was acquired by Macromedia late last year. The product was finished before the changeover, and those of us who saw the early previews were eagerly awaiting it. Now I've got an actual boxed copy here, and I'm happy to say that it was worth the wait.

You probably already know RoboHelp as an environment to build help files. It supports multiple editing tools (you can work in Word, or in RoboHelp's own HTML editor, or indeed in an external HTML editor) and output formats (Microsoft HTML Help, JavaHelp 2.0, FlashHelp, Web Help, and more). The big news here is that RoboHelp X5 is designed to extend the help process beyond the desktop of the individual help author. That's because of the big news here: support for team-oriented help content through the addition of source code control interfaces.

Source code control integrated with RoboHelp is a big win. You can check files in and out, manage security and permissions, identify and compare versions, and roll back files to earlier versions. RoboHelp installs its own RoboSourceControl application designed for distributed and occasionally-connected users as well as users on the network. You can also use any provider that implements the standard SCCAPI, which is handy if you've already got a source code control server on your system.

One way I can see this being used is as a communications mechanism from development to the folks who write the documentation. Imagine that you finish implementing the WhizBang feature, and as a last step, you add a page to the help file source with your notes on what it does and how it works. Instead of pestering you for a demo, the actual writer can check the page out, turn it in to actual English, and add the appropriate screenshots. Big win all around.

On the content side, RoboHelp now has import and export capabilities for both XML and PDF. With XML, you can use DocBook or XHTML, or define your own standard for export. With PDF, there's an intelligent import process that uses the formatting information in the PDF file to determine styles for the help project. You can also export help to PDF, which makes for nice manuals. The PDF exporting is done through a sort of fake printer, and RoboHelp thoughtfully integrates this with your Microsoft Office applications as well, giving you PDF generation across the board.

I've been pretty happy with RoboHelp as a help-authoring system for quite a while. WIth these new capabilities, it's turned into an excellent system for teams as well as individual help developers. And the new PDF and XML capabilities are the icing on the cake.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy has been developing software for a quarter-century now, and writing about it for nearly as long. He walked away from a .NET development career in 2006 and has been a happy Rails user ever since. Mike blogs at A Fresh Cup.

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